Connect to Nature with Earth School

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How do you celebrate Earth Day? Has remote learning made it more difficult? Earth School, a resource by TED-Ed, may be the answer to your distance teaching needs while also being adaptable to in-person lessons.

The first celebration of Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin designated Earth Day to raise awareness of environmental problems facing the planet. The concept began as an invitation for student activists to band together as one voice speaking against industrial development impacts like oil spills, toxic dumps, and factory pollution. 

More than 50 years after its founding, Earth Day is now celebrated worldwide and is an integral part of understanding and participating in global citizenship. Global Citizenship centers on the idea that all people have a responsibility to the world as a whole, not just a responsibility to local communities or countries. 

This year’s Earth Day theme is Restore Our Earth. Organizers are working to build awareness of climate change with three different climate summits to challenge global leaders to understand the global security threats due to climate change. 

As you plan to celebrate Earth Day in your classroom, consider incorporating the high-quality lessons found at TedEd Earth School (reviewed here). Earth School launched during the COVID-19 pandemic as a 30-day adventure encouraging students to explore and connect to nature using lessons and activities available on any device. More than 30 organizations support Earth School, including National Geographic, World Wildlife Federation, and the BBC. This blog post from Ted-Ed provides additional background information on the program.

What is Earth School?

  • It is a series of 30 quests divided into six weekly categories that encourage students to celebrate, explore, and connect with nature.
  • Upon completion of all the quests, students are eligible to receive a certificate of completion via email. 
  • Weekly topics begin with “The Nature of Our Stuff” and build toward the larger theme of “The Nature of Collective Action.” Each of the 30 quests includes five sections:
    • Watch – A short introductory video. 
    • Think – A series of short response and multiple-choice questions.
    • Dig Deeper – Links to other videos, games, interactives, and activities.
    • Discuss – Guided discussions about the quest’s topic.
    • …And Finally – An invitation to share ideas and individual journeys using #EarthSchool.

One of the best features of Earth School is the flexibility of use. After creating a free TED account, users can save, share, and modify lessons. 

  • Open any quest and find the Customize This Lesson button to begin.
  • Choose Publish to save and share without modifications. Students participate in your Ted-Ed lesson by logging in with their TED account or without having an account by directly accessing the link and using a nickname.  
  • Customizing the lessons allows educators to uncheck modules to exclude them before sharing the task, edit and change the wording within each section of the lesson, and add personalized links to other materials. This option also allows you to cut the included video or change it to a video of your choosing. Here are some ideas for customizing your lessons:
    • Link to Google Slides, Microsoft Forms, or other online interactives for students to complete. 
    • Add a link to an Earth Day podcast. Brains On! (reviewed here) is a popular podcast for students of all ages. Add a podcast (or two) from this list of Earth Day episodes.
    • Include a link that asks students to add to a class podcast created using Synth (reviewed here). Share a prompt using one of Ted-Ed’s discussion questions and ask students to share their ideas and thoughts through short audio responses. This section for educators will help you learn more about Synth and getting started with podcasting. 
    • For older students, discover and use prompts found on Flipgrid (reviewed here) shared by Turning Green. Topics include climate change, energy, citizen science, and more. Find even more Earth Day and global citizenship prompts for all ages using the Discovery Library search feature. This topic challenges students to state in less than a minute why every day should be Earth Day. Another prompt asks students to invent a product to save the earth, then create a commercial for their invention. Add any Flipgrid topic to your account and share a link with students in any portion of the Earth School lessons. 
    • Edit a lesson to include this Earth Day toilet paper challenge or use topics found in Earth School to use with a Nearpod (reviewed here) lesson such as this one.
    • Link to a Google Jamboard (reviewed here) that asks students to share an opinion related to the Ted-Ed lesson. This example asks students to use a sticky note to designate their opinion on mandatory recycling. After creating a copy, adjust to the question to meet your needs and add the link in any lesson you share with students.

Earth School is an excellent option to include in any Earth Day unit, whether you’re teaching in-person or remotely. Use these activities as part of a learning center or as an asynchronous lesson for distance learners. Since it is relatively easy to modify assignments, users can adjust activities and questions to create and share quests for different ability levels and student learning preferences, differentiating instruction for all students. 

Have you adapted your Earth Day lessons to include resources for remote learning? How do you incorporate Earth Day as part of your lessons on global citizenship? We would love to hear your ideas and suggestions in the comments section below. Happy Earth Day!


About the author: Sharon Hall

Sharon Hall was a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math teaching. With over 15 years of classroom experience as a National Board Certified teacher, Sharon shares her content knowledge and reflections on ideas for basic classroom technology integration with us.


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